Part One: Living with eczema as an adult

I had eczema as a child, on the areas of my neck, inner elbows and the knee bend areas. I remember I used to scratch at my skin until it bled, and then I would ice it, and wrap a pink, non-woolly scarf around the ice. And I would put a towel below my legs so that the water will not drip directly onto the floor. It was a feeling of bliss when I finally scratched, then changing to irritation and anger at myself, “you have stupid itchy hands!!”, and shame, because I hated the look of eczema. Numbness when the cold ice touched my skin, but the fear that it would start again. Sometimes it was so cold that I wanted to scream, but at least the cold would last for a good ten minutes, and I would not be bothered (except mentally) for another 30 minutes or so.

Singapore is a really bad place to have eczema in because the humidity causes the sweat to stay on the skin, and it irritates the folds of the skin. The sunlight during physical education lessons were always a pain. The itch isn’t the bearable itch of a mosquito bite, because when rashes appears it’s usually a big patch, at least palm sized. It doesn’t appear as a single dot. Plus, there are the comments from friends at school. They say that eczema and skin disorders are common, in one out of ten adults, but when you have it you are hyper-conscious of everyone who has beautiful, unblemished skin. It did a great job of ruining my self-esteem in my primary school days.

But at least I didn’t have it all over my body. I remember my mom telling me that she had a friend with two boys, the younger one was in the same primary school as me and he had ezecma all over his body. It was so bad he would knock his head against the wall so that he would stop scratching. When my mom told me I remember feeling really glad that it wasn’t me, but also sad that he had to go through that alone. Because I can understand how he felt- pain distracts from the itch, but it also hurts you. Which is the main reason why I don’t want to have kids because my genes are really not good. I don’t want my kids to have bad eczema. Mild cases are okay, especially when most kids grow out of it, but how can you know before the child is born? My parents have it, and then now me, as an adult, I really don’t want to risk it.

I started having signs of eczema again in early 2015. It started as dust mite and grass pollen allergies which I knew after I got tested by the allergist, so I avoided the park and I got my mom to change the bedsheets and the detergent. I would have tiny brown scabs all over my body that would stain my shirts and it was mentally exhausting because I didn’t know what was causing it. I spent a lot of time reading about steroid cream withdrawals, even though I haven’t used steroids in over 10 years.

After the sheets and mattress were changed, the house vacuumed and sprayed with anti-dust mite solutions, I still had the same spots on my body. I still woke up in the middle of the night with large raised patches. The Chinese call it ‘feng mo’, but to me it was just ‘fucking shitty skin issues’. I was angry that no one knew what was causing it and no one knew how to cure it (western doctors, sigh.) I had trouble sleeping and bought a box of tea cream creams and oils from iherb.com, and also calming teas and sleep scents, none of which helped. My attendance in school was affected because I couldn’t sleep at night, and couldn’t wake up for the 8.30am classes in the morning. Towards the end of the semester I just started skipping statistics classes because I didn’t have the energy anymore to deal with life.

After sleeping on the couch for a few weeks (because I avoided my bedroom completely), I thought I had a gut bacterial imbalance, and so I started taking probiotics and all sorts of supplements. And then I had chicken pox in the later half of 2015, which brought my immune system down, and my skin got worse. I had boils on my butt and I remember asking the doctor if I was going to have random boils forever. 2015 was the year of jeans because I had too many scars and open scabs on my skin, especially near my elbows, so there were days when I wore long-sleeved shirts and jeans. Fucking hot in Singapore, seriously. Looking back, I don’t know how I tolerated it. My marketing prof even asked if I was better, he said “thankfully it’s not on the face” which by the way, I had a groupmate right next to me with a serious case of acne scars. I felt so bad for him ): And also bad for myself, because my skin then would bleed whenever I wore jeans. The chafing was terrible ):

I started to monitor my own symptoms and diligently avoided all the foods that made my skin worse (gluten, dairy, nuts and seafood) and only ate basic rice/vegetables/meat/black coffee. And a lot of Mr Bean soy milk and MacDonalds french fries, because I don’t react to them. But I realised that I wasn’t getting better. Other symptoms developed that wasn’t about my skin- I had a terribly bloated stomach and I stopped wearing tight dresses or skirts, I had random nosebleeds in school and also at home. My quality of sleep was still terrible, and my overall health was shit, I had my hair falling out and then growing back within a few weeks. The only thing that was good about stopping gluten is that I stopped having sinus infections.

It really didn’t help that my mom kept saying that it is psychosomatic, and that I should eat seafood so that I can recover. Her mantra is that we shouldn’t avoid the things that we are allergic to, which is 100% not what the doctor said. The doctor said that if I keep on doing that, one day I will reach the tipping point and go into anaphylaxis mode. After the chicken pox my mom bought me a small jar of pearl powder, though I am allergic to shellfish, but she said it was expensive and will help with the scarring. I tried it once and I started having hives, and I took an antihistamine to deal with all the fuckery that my body was giving me. I just felt that she didn’t understand any of what I was going through, even though she is the ones who gave me the eczema genes.

The strange thing is that I am not the only one with food allergies/eczema. There is a girl in christian union, I forgot her name, but her list of allergies is longer than mine, and she was doing a daily dose of antihistamines. What antihistamines do is that they prevent your body from reacting to things you are allergic to, like grass pollen or peaches or chocolate. It sounds OK because a daily dose is about $1 if you get the branded sort, and the generic sort I think it’s slightly cheaper, at about $0.80. Which is a small price to pay for peace of mind. But I didn’t have peace of mind, I hate being reliant on medication (partly because I was on long-term medication in JC). I felt like a chained dog. I didn’t want to rely on antihistamines, but I had to, or I wouldn’t be able to go to school.

In late 2015, like around December or January of 2016 even, I tried out traditional chinese medicine. I went through three main treatment methods- boiled medicine for about nine months, then liquid medicine/pills and also boiled medicine interspersed for a while, and mainly acupuncture, cupping (heated glass bottles), and liquid medicine for the past few months. The treatment methods vary based on my condition. I had to take boiled medication because my skin was so bad, the doctor said I needed to get the dampness out of my body, and only use liquid and pills when my condition stabilises. The fastest way to get the dampness out is through diarrhea and flus. In other words, I had roughly nine months of pure stomachaches and toilet visits and I hated it. The medicine isn’t tasty by the way. That’s an understatement of the century, like how people say “oh it’s nothing” when they secretly want to murder you. I once wished that I would poop blood, because then I can legitly tell my doctor “can we please stop, I think I am dying.” Energy wise, I felt better as the months wore on, because I was reacting less to food. My skin was still terrible because dampness is also expelled through the body in small fluid vesicles, if you can imagine the back of my thighs being filled with acne like spots.

When I couldn’t take the diarrhea anymore I told the doctor to remove the diarrhea inducing medication, and she told me ok, the treatment can be taken down a few notches. So I started moderating the amount of leaves I would put in my boiling pot. By the way TCM is not cheap, it’s at least SGD$150/2 weeks worth of medication, and by that I mean about 8 days because I have to rest my stomach between periods. Not including the fees for consultation and other treatments. Plus, you can’t control the side effects you get with medication, I was on a part-time internship in late 2016 and I remember running to the toilet twice before the interviewee arrived (we were doing a design thinking project) and my boss was giving me a very worried look, I think she was scared that I would ruin the interview. The constant diarrhea honestly exhausted my body, although I didn’t lose weight, because I ate a lot of potato chips and chocolate. I figured that I am supposed to eat dairy and gluten, so I might as well go for the most calorific options to keep my weight stable.

Fast forward past a year of horrible symptoms, I finally can eat everything I want, including seafood (in small amounts). However, I still have to go for cupping treatments every two weeks, the bruising and needle holes will last for a week at least. Needle holes because the heated cup will draw blood out from under my skin. But it is a relief to be free of eczema (mostly), food allergies, low energy levels, and best of all, I can attend social outings without worrying about how am I going to explain to my friends that I can’t eat 99.9% of what’s on the menu. I just felt so whiney and naggy when I was sick because I had to explain my condition to so many people, until I just gave up, and took an antihistamine, which made me feel bad because the doctor told me that if I take antihistamines then she can’t see the effects of medicine on my body. No way to win, lol. Now my quality of life is 3x better HAHAH.

There are two good things that I learned from being on TCM. Firstly, it takes a lot of patience and persistence to follow through with the treatment. And ironically, I am using that patience and persistence on church, going for DG every week and making sure I don’t fall behind. Secondly, health is very, very important. Money cannot buy health, and when I am ill I know that other parts of my life will fall apart too. Mentally it was a drain because I was physically wrung out all the time, like I was a rag doll spinning around in the washing machine and then getting stretched out on the clothes line, but I still had to keep up a pretence in other parts of my life. I also felt really unattractive because of the scars (plus I fell down and got four huge scars on my legs in mid 2016) and I just wanted to dig a hole and hide inside until my body was well again.

Now that my skin is well again (no before or after pictures because I deleted everything from my phone, sorry!), I want to record the current skincare that I’m using. Which is in Part 2 🙂